LifeSize Room 200 review
Think serious video conferencing kit has to cost a fortune? LifeSize looks to bring down the cost of high quality video conferencing to more attainable levels.
Videoconferencing has always promised to be the next best thing to really being there.
After all, it made the regular Star Trek showdowns between Starfleet and the Klingons that much more personal.
However, the reality has never lived up to these sci-fi expectations. You could either spend tens of thousands for an experience that at least provided a big-screen view of your conference members, or you could endure the utter disappointment of webcam-based videoconferencing for very little outlay. Either way, getting things to work properly would often be a nightmare.
With the Room 200, LifeSize hopes to provide big-screen teleconferencing for a lot less than before, and also offers an operational experience not far off using a telephone. Costing around the same as most systems in this class are priced at before you add their optional extras, the Room 200 promises 1080p video with every capability as standard.
The Room 200 comes as three discrete components. There's a motorised camera with remote pan-tilt-zoom control, a desk array microphone built into a flat round unit with integrated keypad, and the codec chassis. There's also a remote, which is your primary means of setting up and controlling the system, although the desk keypad can also be used for placing calls.
The camera attaches to the codec unit via HDMI, but it also has a FireWire connection. This means you can use it with LifeSize's other 720p systems, and LifeSize is also planning to use FireWire for supplying power at a future date. However, the communication protocols are proprietary so it won't work with the FireWire ports on other devices.
The codec box has a plethora of connectivity options. You can input video from two different HDMI sources, and a PC via DVI-D or VGA (with the supplied conversion cable). There are even component analogue and S-video inputs for playing DVDs. The PC input senses when you plug in the cable, or turn on a system already attached, and will automatically switch over, which makes the transmission of a presentation essentially plug and play.
Setting up the Room 200 system is relatively straightforward, with large diagrams showing which cables should be plugged in between which devices. The box includes DVI-I to VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI cabling, so you should be able to hook up most sources without the need for any extra wires.
Once everything is connected and powered on, the Room 200 takes quite a while to boot up. However, configuration operates entirely with the remote control and is quite painless. Clear screens guide you through setting up passwords and networking settings. The initial process is wizard based, but you can get back to any of the settings via the System Menu if you need to change anything.
You should then be ready to place your first call, although there may be some issues to overcome related to network address translation and firewalls, details of which are covered in the administrators guide. Placing a call initially involves inputting the appropriate IP address, but you can also add entries to an address book. The most popular locations can be listed on the initial call screen, for extremely quick access.
We tested the system on an ADSL 2+ line at the premises of AMX (www.amx.com). This wasn't quite the optimal connection, as although it allowed a healthy 1.8Mbits/sec downstream, upstream was limited to 1Mbits/sec.
But it still looked great at both ends of the calls we placed. In top quality mode, the Room 200 transmits and receives 1080p30 video (1,920 x 1,080 resolution at 30 progressive frames per second), using H.264 video and AAC LC audio compression, but this requires at least 1.7Mbits/sec of bandwidth. There are also 720p60 and 720p30 modes available, and the system scales to the best possible resolution for available connection speed.
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